Dragonslayers Return by R. A. Salvatore



  The October wind bit hard, tossing leaves, yellow and brown and red, into a swirling vortex and sweeping them past the man standing solemnly at the top of the hill, near to the road and the spiked green fence that marked the boundary of the cemetery. Cars buzzed along Lancaster Street just beyond that fence, the bustle of the living so near to the quiet cemetery. White flakes danced in the air, an early-season flurry. Just a few flakes, and fewer still ever seemed to reach the ground, carried along on the wind's continual ride.

  Gary Leger, head bowed, hardly noticed any of it, the snow, the wind, or the cars. His black hair, longer now than usual for lack of attention, whipped about into his stubbly face, but that, too, he didn't notice. The feel of the day, that classic New England autumn melancholy, was in Gary, but the details were lost - lost in the overwhelming power of the simple words on the flat white stone set in the ground:

  Pvt. Anthony Leger

  Dec. 23, 1919-June 6, 1992

  World War II Veteran

  That was it. That was all. Gary's dad had spent seventy-two years, five months, and fifteen days alive on this Earth, and that was it.

  That was all.

  Gary consciously tried to conjure memories of the man. He remembered the cribbage games, remembered the great blizzard of '78, when his dad, the stubborn mailman, was out at five in the morning, trying to shovel his car out of the driveway.

  Gary snorted, a sad chuckle at best, at that recollection. The weatherman had forecasted a few inches, and Gary had awakened with the hopes that school would be canceled. Yeah, right. Gary peeked through the side of his shade, and saw that it had indeed snowed. Perspectives were all askew that February morning fifteen years before, though, and when Gary looked down to the driveway beneath his window, trying to gauge how much snow had fallen, all he saw was a black circle a few inches in diameter. He thought it was the driveway, thought his car, his precious '69 Cougar with the 302 Boss and the mag wheels, had been stolen.

  Gary ran downstairs in just his underwear, screaming, "My car!" over and over.

  The car was still there, the embarrassed young man soon learned, standing practically naked in front of his mother and older sister; the black spot he had seen was not the driveway, but the vinyl roof of his car! And there was his father, stubborn Dad, at the end of the driveway, plunging the shovel upward - up above his shoulders! - into a snowdrift, trying to get his car out so that he could get to work. Never mind that the city snowplows hadn't even been able to climb up the Florence Street hill; never mind that the snowdrift went on and on, down the street and even down the main road.

  Gary could see it all so clearly, could even see the cemetery, across the street and across their neighbor's yard. Even in that memory, Gary could see the statue marking his father's family grave, the virgin with her arms upraised to the gray sky.

  Just like now. Just like forever. The plaque that marked his father's grave was a few feet behind that same statue, and Gary's eyes wandered to the virgin's back, followed its lines and upraised arms into the sky, full of dark clouds and white clouds, rushing along on the westerly breeze. Gary's chuckle was gone, replaced by a single tear that washed from his green eye and gently rolled down his cheek.

  Diane, leaning on the car twenty feet away, noted the glisten of that tear and silently bit her bottom lip. Her eyes, green like Gary's, moistened in sympathy. She was helpless. Totally helpless. Anthony had been gone four months and in that short time, Diane had watched her husband age more than in the seven years they had been together.

  But that was the thing with death, the helplessness. And as much as Diane felt it in looking at wounded Gary, Gary felt it ten times more in looking down at the simple words on the simple stone in the wind-strewn cemetery.

  Gary had always been a dreamer. If a bully pushed him around at school, he would fantasize that he was a martial arts master, and in his mind he would clobber the kid. Whatever cards the real world had dealt to him, he could change his hand through his imagination. Until now, looking down at the grass covering his father. There were no "conquering hero" daydreams for this reality. Gary took a deep breath and looked back to the stone marker. He didn't come to the cemetery very often; he didn't see the point. He carried his father's memory with him every minute of every day - that was his homage to the man he had so loved.

  Until June 6, things had been going well for Gary Leger. He and Diane had been married for almost two years, and they were starting to talk about children. Both were building careers, following the paths that society said was proper. They had lived with Gary's parents for a short while after their wedding, saving for an apartment, and had only been out on their own for a few months.

  And then Anthony had died.

  His time had come. That was the proper cliche for it, the most fitting description of all. Anthony had always been the most responsible of men; Anthony would dig at that towering snowdrift because by doing so, he was making progress towards fulfilling his responsibilities. That was Anthony's way. Thus, when Gary, the baby of the family, youngest of seven, had moved out of the house, Anthony's responsibilities had come to their end. His children were out and on their own; his daughters and his sons had made their own lives. The time had come for Anthony to sit back and relax, and pass the time in quiet retirement.

  Anthony didn't know how to do that.

  So Anthony's time had come. And though he felt none of the I-wish-I-had-told-him-while-he-was-alive guilt, for his relationship with his dad had been truly wonderful, Gary couldn't help thinking, in the back of his mind, that if he had stayed at home, Anthony would have stayed responsible. Anthony would have stayed alive.

  Gary felt that weight this chill and windy autumn day. But more than that, he felt pure and unblemished grief. He missed his dad, missed having him down at third base, coaching softball, missed watching TV, sharing grumbling sessions at the always bleak daily news.

  As that summer had begun to wane, Diane had talked about children again, but her words seemed ultimately empty to Gary Leger. He wasn't ready yet for that prospect, for the prospect of having children that his dad would never see.

  All the world was black to him.

  All the world, except one sliver of hope, one memory that could not be dulled by any tragedy. When the grief threatened to engulf him, overwhelm him and drop him listless to the leaf-covered ground, Gary Leger turned his thoughts to the mystical land of Faerie, the land of leprechauns and elfs, of a dragon he had slain and an evil witch who would soon be free - or perhaps already was free, bending the land's independent people under her iron-fisted rule.

  Gary had been there twice, the first time unexpectedly, of course, and the second time after five years of wishing he could go back. Five years in this world had been just a few weeks in Faerie, for time between the lands did not flow at the same rate.

  For a fleeting instant, Gary entertained a notion of somehow getting back to Faerie, of using the time discrepancy to come back to a living Anthony. If there was some way he could get back on the night Anthony's heart had stopped, some way he could be beside his father, so that he might call the emergency medics . . .

  Gary dismissed the wild plan before it could even fully formulate, though, for he understood that the time discrepancy did not involve any backward time travel. Anthony was gone, and there was not a thing in all the world that Gary could do about it.

  Still, the young man wanted to get back to Faerie. He wanted to get back to Mickey McMickey the leprechaun, and Kelsey the elf, and Geno Hammerthrower, surly Geno, the dwarf who never seemed to run out of fresh spittle. Gary had wanted to go back, off and on, in the four years since his last adventure, and that desire had become continuous since th
e moment he saw his dad lying on the hospital gurney, since the moment he realized that there was nothing he could do.

  Maybe his desire to return was merely a desire to escape, Gary fully realized.

  Maybe Gary didn't care.
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